Nobleboro resident and Navy veteran Frank King got a chance to visit the national World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 21 via a down-and-back day trip provided by Honor Flight New England.
King, 86, joined over 100 fellow WWII vets from around New England on the flight, which was an all-expense-paid to visit their memorial in the nation’s capitol.
Enlisting in the Navy in 1943, King said he inadvertently became the barber on the U.S.S. Indian Island when asked if he was qualified with shears.
King, familiar with using shears to cut sheet metal from his time in a machine shop, raised his hand in the affirmative.
“I’m thinking of tin shears, and they’re thinking of shears,” he said with a laugh.
The Indian Island was out to sea with King working as the barber, post master, and other jobs before the Navy finally realized he was only 16 years old.
“I thought they were plumb nuts” to get so upset over his age, King said.
After serving in the Pacific, King was discharged in 1946.
“The only thing we were told to do was to go down and sign up for unemployment,” King said of the veterans’ quiet return to the states.
It was not until nearly 60 years later that the national World War II memorial opened to the public, and Honor Flight New England helps provide a way for the aging veterans to get down and view the public tribute.
As its mission, Honor Flight New England seeks to transport each American veteran to the capitol to visit their respective memorial, giving priority first to WWII vets and those with terminal illnesses, according to http://honorflightnewengland.org.
Each veteran who flies down is escorted by a guardian, since the vets are aging and many are wheel-chair bound, King said.
The expenses of the veterans are all covered, King said.
“They can’t do enough for you,” said Barbara King, Frank’s wife, about Honor Flight New England.
Unlike the veterans, the guardians have to pay their own way, Frank said.
Spouses are not allowed to be guardians, as most are about the same age as the veterans themselves, Barbara said.
Flying down Saturday morning and coming back that night was a whirl-wind tour, but the veterans got to spend 90 minutes exploring the vast memorial, Frank said.
“It was a hectic day, but all in all it was unbelievable,” he said.
One of the most memorable things Frank noticed about the memorial was the feature of speeches by President Franklin Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, and others, many of which King remembered hearing when he was in high school and during the war.
At the memorial, the veterans were visited by former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, and Rep. Mike Michaud, Frank said.
Frank described Powell’s speech as very diplomatic, but following the same thread of speeches in the past: “Without the Second World War, we’d all be speaking Japanese.”
“I thought it was fantastic,” Frank said of his Honor Flight.